Dining With Dara: Do you eat out too much?by Dara Moskowitz-Grumdahl
St. Paul, Minn. — There's something terribly wrong with you -- or with food trend journalism. Use this handy dandy quiz to find out which is the case.
Every few days some food-trend story makes the news. Perhaps it's news that Minnesotans eat at home more than people in Miami.
Perhaps it's punditry suggesting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is more electable because he resembles increasingly obese America -- or less electable.
A story making the rounds this week really got my attention. It's a teeny-tiny study reporting that eating in the company of men inspires people of both genders to order fewer calories. Women, for instance, were reported to have purchased 721 calories worth of food when they dined with women, but 833 when they dined with men.
I could knock holes in this study all day. First of all, calorie counts are notoriously unreliable.
You can more or less assume that the calories you're actually consuming vary from what you think you're consuming by 10 or as much as 20 percent either way.
So what does that do to an 80-odd calorie difference, as averaged over 127 people? And what's the proscriptive leap -- avoid women? That's not going anywhere good.
Study after study shows that eating with your family, whether you're a kid or an adult, and whether that family is big or just you and another person, is better for you than sitting in front of the television eating a frozen pizza.
So, are you eating out too much? Not enough? Who knows? What is eating at home, anyway? The biggest growth category for frozen foods the last few years has been breakfast sandwiches that allow you to eat a Sausage McMuffin-like object in your car, on your commute.
I guarantee you there are people who eat every meal at home -- but it's food that's just as processed as if they were eating exclusively at the Burger King drive-thru.
On the other hand, what is eating out? Grocery store salad bars have sit-down areas. The biggest growth in the restaurant segment for the past few years has been with the "quick-serve" counter-service restaurants like Chipotle, Panera, and Smashburger, which many people use primarily for take-out.
There are also massive chains like Olive Garden and Red Lobster. And there are the teeny-tiny number of chef-driven, farm-driven restaurants that foodies go on and on about when we go on and on -- where they serve kale, Swiss chard, and Brussels sprouts. Just as you can eat in and eat highly processed awful foods, you can eat out and eat nothing but kale, quinoa, and unsaturated fats.
So is it good to eat out? Is it better to eat at home? The virtues of eating at home tend to come from two places:
1. The actual food; and
2. The whole constellation of love, community, and support that arises from eating where someone can listen to (and help solve?) your problems, and notice that you look like you need some more sleep.
Are you yourself eating out enough, or too much? I've created a simple quiz to help you discover your own answer.
DARA'S FOOD QUIZ
1) Split pea soup is something:
a) I know how to make.
b) I make - and eat!
c) That sounds astonishingly troublesome; who has time to split peas? Who has the manual dexterity, they're so small. Come to think of it, who are peas to demand we split them? Peas are not the boss of me -- and you can tell them if they come around here I'll give them a splitting they'll never forget!
2) Green salad:
a) Is one of the only ways you can reliably receive croutons.
b) Is delicious.
c) Is the road to Communism.
a) Show up next to burritos, and I'm OK with that.
b) Are a great, inexpensive source of protein. And if you eat them frequently they're entirely digestible. Your gut flora readjusts to digest whatever you eat, if you eat a lot of beans it will be easy to digest beans, if you eat a lot of steak it will be easy to eat steak. If you want to transition to eating beans when you don't, simply eat a few one day, a few more the next day, and so on. It's easy!
c) Beans! Don't say beans around me. Beans, I've said it before and I'll say it again, beans will be the death of us all.
4) A nice walk:
a) Is a delightful thing to do on vacation.
b) Is part of my every day.
c) Is the only way to get to the bar once your license is revoked.
5) Homemade vinaigrette:
a) Is something you'll typically find at rich people's houses.
b) Is just oil plus vinegar. That's hardly cooking, it's rudimentary addition! And what a nice way to jazz up greens, hot or cold.
c) Sounds like something that French cartoon skunk would get up to -- what was his name, Pepe le Pew? Whatever happened to that skunk? Oh, vinaigrette? I'm not eating something made out of skunks!
6) I try a new fruit or vegetable:
a) When they're safely concealed in a trendy martini.
b) If it seems appealing.
c) If it's incorporated into a Dorito chip. Cool Ranch -- that's like seven vegetables right there.
7) Whole foods:
a) Is a store.
b) Are unprocessed, recognizable foods like a piece of broccoli, or a chicken breast.
c) When I get a plate of tater skins, first it's whole, then it's two-thirds, one-third, burp!
8) Grains like quinoa, teff, or barley:
a) Keep showing up in my corn chips. It's like Where's Waldo in those bags sometimes. Freaky!
b) Are a delicious way to mix up weeknight cooking.
c) Are grounds for lethal self-defense in seven states.
9) Warm oatmeal:
a) Is fantastic with double-fudge frosting.
b) Can be made for pennies from whole oats during the week, and reheated every day for a healthy, tasty breakfast.
c) Is the kind of thing celebrities eat at Sundance, in order to lord their superiority over us.
10) A glass of red wine with dinner:
a) Is nice -- at Christmas.
b) Is a great way to get health-promoting antioxidants, and to bond with friends and loved ones.
c) Is less efficient than drinking vodka from a paper bag, under your car.
11) Eating with friends or family:
a) Is worse than eating in front of the television, better than eating with hyenas.
b) Is part of my every day.
c) Is what kicked off every felony I've ever been charged with.
IF YOU ANSWERED:
Mostly A's: Consider taking a walk and eating a some broccoli! You know you want to.
Mostly B's: Good for you! It's all genetics and lifestyle now. If you're getting plenty of exercise and are still looking for something to improve, why not teach a kid to make split-pea soup? It's one of the greatest gifts you could give a young person starting out in life.
Mostly C's: OK, we've got problems. First thing you need to do is read up on the mind-body connection. You are not a personality and a string of accomplishments suspended like a balloon from a stick. That stick has problems, you have problems! Return to high school or your grandma's kitchen and read up on health, nutrition, and learn how to cook yourself a bowl of split-pea soup. Or find a good restaurant to serve you a bowl of split-pea soup.